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Thursday 17 March 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Avantasia (Review By Nick)

Avantasia: O2 Forum, London

So a few months back I heard the news that Tobias and his crew would be sending one of the greatest projects in metal on tour again, supporting their new album Ghostlights. What's more, they would be bringing their tour to the UK for only the second time in almost 20 years. This news led to a “take my money!” scramble on my phone to secure tickets, even though a trip to London was in the offing, this was after all... Avantasia.

Arriving in the forum fifteen minutes before the advertised time all fuelled and fed we made our way near to the front of stage right where we found a perfect view of the dimly lit set which had been dressed as the ruins of a castle, with a haunting backdrop of the mascot of the Ghostlights album the atmosphere was set. Before we could make ourselves comfortable the lights dipped and the music kicked in ten minutes ahead of schedule, shortly after the familiar faces of Sascha Paeth, Felix Bohnke, Oliver Hartmann and Amanda Somerville entered the stage to a loud applause... as the opening riff for Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose kicked in; Tobias appeared and proceeded to flawlessly deliver the opening song of what was to be three hours and ten minutes of pure operatic metal at its finest.

Jumping about the stage costume clad and energetic I was amazed to see that Sammet didn't drop a note, a high standard to set but with so long left, I was intrigued to see whether his voice would last, as although brilliant, Sammet's voice is unique and highly pitched and can at times easily be strained. With little hesitation the band smoothly transitioned into Ghostlights and before the man himself had the chance to appear the crowd erupted into applause and screams as this meant only one thing... it was time for the mighty Kiske. Cooley strolling on the elevated backdrop of the stage, dressed in his usual leather biker jacket and jeans, he had a cheeky smile on his face (who could blame him with such a welcome) and delivered the opening verse of the song with the smooth high pitched tone that Kiske has made his own throughout his career. To me this man is up there with the best in music, let alone metal. Tobias and Kiske led the anthemic song with great aplomb, involving the crowd and messing about as they usually do, its clear to these guys are great friends. Leaving the stage Tobias spoke a few brief words thanking the crowd for coming and for the success of the album, before being joined on stage by Ronnie Atkins to produce the best live version of one of my favourite Avantasia tracks; Invoke The Machine.

Atkins has always impressed me with his versatile voice, switching between his rough, torn almost screaming vocals to his smooth Roy Khan like clean vocals... a blind man would not think they were the same person. Both sides of his vocals however compliment this track brilliantly, in Atkins Tobias has found another great his voice collaborates with perfectly. Remaining on stage Kiske returned to another generous applause and the trio proceeded to break out Unchain The Light, the presence of three such vocalists on the stage blew me away, but little did I know what I was to expect later. For the next tow tracks Tobias was joined on stage by a British legend and Musipedia favourite; Bob Catley. No matter his age (103?) or how silver his hair gets Catley will never lose his voice till the day he passes. With his edgy voice yet smooth delivery A Restless Heart and The Great Mystery were presented with sheer professionalism that we expect from Catley. The crowd joining in loudly to Catley's surprise at times... although these songs are ballads they are just as good as the heavy stuff, and they clearly mean a lot to the Avantasia fans, especially when offered to us by such a great.

Moving on to the next track and possibly the loudest part of the entire night... the appearance of Jorn Lande as the jigworthy opening of fan favourite The Scarecrow kicked in. There are few if no words to describe the quality of Lande's voice and the ease in which he delivers it, throughout the whole of The Scarecrow and Lucifer he flawlessly hit every note high to low with the passion and emotion the each word demanded, why this man doesn't preform live more often I'll never know, this though was a treat.

The Watchmakers Dream, one of the shorter Avantasia tracks was next. This time Tobias supported by guitarist Oliver Hartmann on vocals saw one of the weaker tracks from The Mystery Of Time album given some live zest, however for me, Hartmann's vocals although tuneful, were simply just too weak to compete with Tobias or any of the other vocalists on display tonight, which was a shame. Considering the plethora of talent on offer, this seemed like an odd move. Moving swiftly on, next came one of my all time favourite songs by this project; What's Left Of Me. This ballad is purely beautiful in every sense, from the lyrics and the choice of artist to preform it... Eric Martin. As the lights rose upon the stage we found Eric sat on the steps cutting a lonely figure, but he proceeded to dazzle the crowd with his heartfelt and powerful delivery of this amazing song. The crowd stood in silence taking in the song and only voiced their delight as the song hit its crescendo and Tobias once again joined in for the climax of the track... wow! Another of the industries greatest voices on display at its finest. Eric remained on stage for the next behemoth of a song The Wicked Symphony, which saw Tobias make a timely exit. Fourteen minutes long this was a testament of what Avantasia is all about. Kiske, Lande, Martin, Atkins, Somerville and Langhans all on stage bellowing out this symphonic masterpiece supported majestically by Paeth, Hartmann and Bohnke on their instruments, this one the crowd did not want to end... and I agreed! Chills running down my spine, this track is truly what Avantasia is all about, and what music should be about, damn!

Draconian Love with Herbie Langhans returning was next on the agenda, this song has always been the weakest on Ghostlights, to the point that I would almost go as far to say that I do not like it. However Langhans display of a deep devilish almost Barry White like depths of tone at times, really did put a new angle on this song live. I still don't rate this song brilliantly, but live it did the trick nicely. Soon the entire cast returned to the stage once more to serve us a Wicked Symphony standard version of Farewell, Somerville of course taking the lead and demonstrating once again why there are only a few ladies in the game that can match or surpass her. The crowd swaying their arms and mobiles arisen... Farewell is always a crowd pleaser and clearly a track that the band take pleasure in providing to us too.

Now the Mighty Catley returns to the stage (presumably after a nap?) to pound out The Story Ain't Over, which in itself is a Magnumeque track, clearly written with Catley in mind. Joining him on stage Kiske and Tobias return and mix their vocal talents to supply us with a thunderous version of Shelter From The Rain; Kiske's voice again on ridiculous form here. Next the moment that Matt and I had joked about all night and what I eluded to earlier, Lande entered the stage and broke out in to Let The Storm Decend Upon You. Giving it his all the crowd memorized by his voice, when suddenly Kiske appeared and continued the track. Surely this is too much talent on one stage... the mere thought of these two greats singing together was almost a health risk in itself, alas we did not get this. Handing the baton back and forth, Kiske and Lande clearly engaging in a mini vocal battle, that completed the duo of Let The Storm and Promised Land with sheer brilliance to leave the crowd singing to an empty stage begging for more.

The encore now and Tobias and Kiske were reunited while belting out the anthems that are Reach Out For The Light and Avantasia. The crowd singing and jumping along with delight, taking in evry last note. Three hours were bearing down upon us but the energy level had only dropped a small amount, its amazing what music can give you in the form of energy. Two of the final three tracks saw Eric Martin return to the stage euphoric, high or both, as he rambled on for a few minutes about anything and everything, much to the crowds amusement. Leading Tobias to tell his to shut the f*ck up. Martin played his apart in tracks that he isn't usually involved in, however you wouldn't have realised it with the performance he gave. Twisted Mind and Dying For An Angel were given to us in smooth style, Dying For An Angel showcasing Martins voice and really making me want a Mr Big reunion too... hmph!

The finale was a brilliant mix of Sign Of The Cross and The Seven Angels, which saw a reversal of the band taking in the crowd. Wandering about the stage singing, taking snaps with their cameras and phones, while still emphatically nailing this symphonic end to a show that was not just a show of what music can do for the crowd, but what the crowd can do to the artists too. Talent like this clearly humbled can only involve themselves in such a project for the love of the music and the fans, as I can see very little financial gain for these guys at the ticket prices offered. To be honest this was proven in the way every artist filled every lyric and note with pure passion and live to make this without doubt one of, if not the greatest concert I have had the privilege of attending in my 27 years on this planet. Musically Avantasia and brilliant, many different styles spread across the symphonic genre on show. However for me tonight was about the vocal talent on show, and f*ck me were we treated to some of the greats, on top for their game... all in one place. If I could give this more than 10 I would, I really would however the powers of the Musipedia have spoken which leaves me nothing left to say (I could actually go on) but... 10/10.

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